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Sonwabile Ndamase, and the Madiba Shirt

Top Billing speaks to Sonwabile Ndamse about the Madiba Shirt


Sonwabile Ndamase, and the Madiba Shirt

There are many things that stand out when you think of Nelson Mandela: leadership, humour,  peace-making, soccer, forgiveness, rugby, principle, fashion, vision, boxing, sacrifice, human genius, a unique dancing style and endless hard work. One distinctive feature that can't be missed are his vibrant shirts which form a apart of his very distinctive signature style. Top Billing presenter Simba spent some time with designer, Sonwabile Ndamase, to find out what inspires his designs and what his experience has been creating a 'look' for our country's greatest man.

About Sonwabile Ndamase:

I began with mending holes in my brothers’ and sisters’ clothes when I was just a boy that was where it all started. My mother was strict but not conservative; I was doing feminine chores like washing and cleaning. My mom changed the culture in our home and I guess she had a futuristic way of looking at things. I also ended up knitting winter jerseys but I didn’t see it as a serious interest, it was just a hobby. In 1984, I attended a fashion design course but wasn’t happy with the content because we were taught about Western fashion so I asked myself “Why can’t we study our own people?”  So I left the course and started my own label, Vukani.

Education: Diploma in Fashion and Retailing, Fashion Design and Management College. Productivity Improvements in the Garment Industry [The Swedish Textile/Clothing Technology Centre.] Textiles – Properties, Requirements and Testing [The Textile and Leather Laboratory, Stockholm AB] Textile Finishing [Swedish Institute for Fibre and Polymer Research] Design and Trends, Management Course in Goalistic Thinking, Training Course as Tutor in Project Management Guidance “The Project Idea” [Sweden] Executive Leadership Development Program, Cambridge, Massachusetts [USA]. 1984 - 1985: ICS Diploma in Marketing, Advertising, 1985 - 1987: Diploma in Professional Sales Development, Small Business Management, Practical Retail in Marketing, Retail Development Program. Small Business Management[Centre for Developing Business, Graduate School of Business Administration, University of the Witwatersrand

Career: 1983: Assistant Manager, Berger’s Store, Butterworth; 1984 - 1985: Freelance Actor and Presenter, SABC TV1 and TV2 Youth Programmes; 1985 - 1987: Senior Sales and Public Relations Officer, Acorn Publishing, Pretoria; 1987: Fundraiser and Part-time lecturer; 1988: Founder of Modern Foundation, changed to South African Fashion Designers Association; an Agent for young up coming and emerging Designers1990: Workshop designer in conjunction with top retail companies.

Of Note:  Put on an annual Vukani! Fashion Awards since 1994, to unearth and discovered    South African fashion design talent. Chief Executive Designer of Vukani Range Creations and Designer of the Madiba Shirts. Accompanied President Nelson Mandela’s entourage of government officials as business delegate to England. Took designers to Lusaka, United States of America, Addis Ababa, LA Reunion, Ethiopia, Abidjan, Sweden, Paris, Brazil and Europe for exposure and exhibitions. Received a Vukani! Day proclamation certificate from Mayor Bill Campbell of Atlanta. 

Awards & Honours: Fashion Advisory Panel, Cape Town Fashion Festival, Education Volumes/Publications:
Human Capacity Development (UNISA) Social Studies- Grade 8 Entrepreneurship. Life time Achievement Award by Pan African Fashion Festival (Namibia) as an official Designer for the”Madiba Shirts” The Man of  the moment “Business Enterprise” SABC 1 The Hero of the week in Fashion Designing by Take 5 program TV.1 Etc. Best Collection of the Year Award [New York] 1982: Mr. Butterworth Personality of the Year;  Toastmasters International Spirit of Success and Success Leadership (Flexible Thinking) Awards, Best  chairman of the year TMI, Best evaluator of the month.

Memberships: Advisory Committee of Clothing Industry Training Board, Vice President Marketing Toastmasters, Standing Committee on Small Medium and Emerging Businesses, National Economic and Labour Council [NEDLEC], Gauteng economic and development forum, Gauteng Business Caucus, education sub-committee of the Cancer Association of South Africa, South African Clothing and Textile Export Council,

Avocations: Participate and spectator sports, freelance writer, promoter and advisor, part-time lecturer and travel

Vision: To be the leading fashion house in African Couture through community development and youth upliftment within Southern Africa.

Mission: To bring back heritage in terms of getting dressed, even on social gatherings

Where did you get your inspiration from for the Madiba shirt?

French Philosopher Blaise Pascal says: "The greater intellect one has, the more originality one finds in men. Ordinary persons find no difference between men.”

We must look for originality in people, in art and in writing. It is essential to communicate and with communication portray our feelings; thus exploiting the never ending limits of words and colours. Sometimes we express in words what we cannot portray in colour while often we express with colour what we cannot say with words. That’s were my inspiration came from when I received the brief from the former President.

I wanted to honour and thank him for his magnanimous bravery by giving him his own style as way of saying thank you.



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